Anyone who’s about to begin the process of editing their book is bound to feel intimidated.
From plot considerations to mistakes you’ll want to avoid, editing a manuscript is a complicated journey that requires immense effort and attention to detail. But that doesn’t mean it has to be anxiety-inducing – especially if you have the right toolkit at your disposal!
While no algorithmic editing tool is a substitute for human eyes, certain programs and apps can be a huge boon as you proceed with your self-edit.
To that end, here are five must-have tools for the novel editing process, and how you can employ them to improve your book.
Editing Tool #1: Scrivener
Though you’ve probably heard of Scrivener (or are already using it), many authors underestimate its power as an editing tool.
It’s true that Scrivener is a sophisticated word processor (check out our Beginner’s Guide to Scrivener for the basics!), but it’s also one of the best programs out there for manuscript organisation and big-picture visualisation.
There are several Scrivener features you’ll want to utilise during your edit. One of its most significant assets is drag-and-drop chapter outlining, with virtual notecards for each scene and separate sections for characters and settings.
The corkboard-style layout makes it easy to see which elements need a little boost and, more importantly, which can be cut during your edit.
If you prefer to view these elements exclusively in relation to each other, you can use the color-coded ‘label view’.
This allows you to mark scenes with labels to indicate things like main plot, subplot(s), different character arcs, or essential themes. No matter how you organise it, the label view makes it easier to evaluate related scenes side-by-side.
Another cool feature of Scrivener’s most recent update is ‘linguistics mode’, which searches for specific phrases and parts of speech – adjectives, adverbs and dialogue starters, for example – and points out which words you might be overusing.
While less relevant to big-picture editing, linguistics mode is perfect for writers who depend a little too heavily on certain words… Which brings us to our next tool.
Editing Tool #2: Hemingway
If readers often comment on the verbosity of your writing, consider giving Hemingway a try!
Based on the philosophy of concision espoused by its namesake, Ernest Hemingway, this tool helps you pare down your prose to the essentials.
This is one of the most important parts of editing, but also one of the most difficult to achieve – so it’s easy to see how Hemingway might benefit authors who are especially reluctant to kill their darlings.
After you paste your writing into the free online version or paid desktop version of Hemingway, the app will highlight your prose in five different colors: blue for adverbs, green for passive voice, purple for phrasing, yellow for lengthy sentences, and red for really protracted sentences.
Each highlight comes with concrete suggestions for alternative words, words to omit, and how much you should shorten your sentences.
Of course, you may not agree with all of Hemingway’s editing suggestions, or even find them pertinent to your book. By default, the app aims for a ninth-grade reading level, which may be very different to your target readership or natural style.
If your prose leans toward the flowery and you’re totally fine with that, feel free to skip this tool! (Just remember to get a real-life copyeditor’s eyes on your work before publication.)
But you can’t deny that if you want to produce a high-school-English-worthy classic, it’s the only (Heming)way to go.
Editing Tool #3: AutoCrit
Speaking of producing great fiction: what better technique is there than directly comparing your work to other successful books in your genre?
This is one of the major selling points of AutoCrit, which allows you to select your book’s genre and category and calibrates itself to match.
You can then see how your vocabulary, structure and style measure up to your genre’s standards, based on AutoCrit’s content analysis of ‘millions of books’.
Another appealing AutoCrit feature is the comprehensive ‘summary report’, which covers your paragraph and sentence patterns, tense and POV consistency, and the words you use most frequently.
By way of actual editing, AutoCrit offers an impressive range of lenses through which to evaluate your writing: pacing and momentum, dialogue, and ‘strong writing’ factors like showing vs. telling, to name a few.
AutoCrit will show you all the different ways to improve in each area, one passage at a time.
One downside of AutoCrit is that it’s tailored to fiction, which means you may not find it especially useful if you’re writing creative non-fiction. But if you are editing a novel, it’s one of the best pieces of novel-writing software out there to make your storytelling more engaging and effective.
You can test out AutoCrit for free, or pay $1 for a two-week premium trial.
Editing Tool #4: Grammarly
Of course, Grammarly also provides alternative word choice and style suggestions for your prose. But most of all, it guarantees that the majority of your spelling, grammar and syntax will be polished to perfection.
You can install the Grammarly extension or download the free desktop app, though you’ll still have to pay for Premium if you want more detailed suggestions. Most authors get plenty out of Grammarly’s free features, though, which cater to correctness and clarity.
The app notes everything from missing articles to unnecessary qualifiers to passive voice, giving you a handy way to sharpen your writing and your manuscript as a whole.
You’ll even receive an overall score for your writing out of 100, and statistics for targeting super-specific factors, like sentence length and reading time.
The Grammarly browser extension is ideal if you struggle with spelling and grammar, and the free desktop app is an excellent choice for those who want frequent, thorough, non-Wifi-dependent analyses of their writing (and don’t want to shell out for Hemingway).
However, we’d caution against using the browser extension as you redraft. It’s great for emails and short pieces, but can be distracting and ultimately counterproductive when trying to get through an entire book.
Editing Tool #5: ProWritingAid
Finally, we have ProWritingAid, which bills itself as ‘a grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package’.
It’s definitely a jack-of-all-trades tool, as evidenced by the 24 kinds of reports you can run, from the broadest of strokes (‘Writing Style Report’, ‘Grammar Report’) to the most precise (‘Dialogue Tags Check‘, ‘Homonym Check’).
As with AutoCrit, you can appraise different elements while you edit, choosing whether to focus on style, structure, grammar, etc.
ProWritingAid will underline weak spots in your writing and make detailed suggestions as you write, though you can always turn off ‘real-time’ editing if you find this distracting or irritating. This is one feature that really sets ProWritingAid apart, demonstrating a keen awareness of user experience.
In a similar vein, ProWritingAid allows you to create your own ‘house style’, which may be particularly helpful for authors writing in an unconventional style, such as free verse.
Each of these editing tools will suit a slightly different set of people. A program that works perfectly for another writer might not work for you, and vice versa.
The best thing to do is test them all out to see which you prefer, then move forward with revising your novel, confident that you have what you need to succeed.
On that note, good luck, and happy editing!